‘Even looking at this piece of art on the wall makes me breathless,’ she said.
‘Then you should be jogging every morning.’
‘No, I don’t mean breathless in that sense…’
‘The sense doesn’t matter,’ I replied cutting her mid-sentence, ‘What matters is that you are fit enough to stand the entire day looking at paintings and analysing them.’
This friend was doing a short-term course in Art Appreciation and I knew that she was pretty good when she was at her perceptive best but horribly wrong and wayward when she was tired and exhausted. As any other young girl even she was obsessed with eating less, but what really exhausted her was not this but that she was not exercising at all.
This made me think. ‘Fitness is rather vital for anyone anywhere doing anything,’ I told myself, ‘Why must fitness be related to just a few select sports?’
Why indeed? Why must the wise authorities of Delhi University want only those who seek to get in under the umbrella of sports quota be fit?
‘This is quite unfair of DU,’ I remarked, ‘making only the sports quota aspirants jump, run, and sprint. Are they the only ones who need to run a thousand metres in six minutes and do a fifty metre dash in less than nine seconds, or be able to jump at least a metre and a half?’
At the time I was mumbling this, I was standing inside a lift with a doctor, a university research scientist, and a housewife. They all looked at me curiously and all said the same word at the same time.
The few seconds available inside the lift were enough for the four of us to decide to meet in the evening to discuss this matter at length. That evening was full of animated discussions trying to connect fitness, selection of students, education, work culture, and attitudes.
‘Why are so against remaining fit,’ began the housewife, ‘I was aghast to see a National Chess player protest on being asked to run a 50 metre sprint.’
‘He actually walked out of the university selections because he was neither able to jump nor even run those thousand metres,’ I stated.
The doctor then added that physical activity did increase the glucose and oxygen metabolism in the brain and this was essential for us to remain sharp at any age. ‘A study, published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, says that healthy people who reported exercising regularly had a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of dementia,’ said the good doctor and then went on, ‘I’ve read this paper on the net and Jim McKenna, a professor of physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K. has also said that people who exercised went home feeling more satisfied with their day.’
Our friend from the University was quiet for all this while and, as was his habit, raised his hands before saying anything.
‘Yes professor, what do you have to add?’
‘Well, I’ve spent many years in the labs in the US and know how energetic and inexhaustible the people there are. We used to get tired but they just went on and on and on,’ he paused as if he was linking up his thoughts and then continued, ‘we do lose out in research too because we do not have the endurance to sit and think for such long spells.’
‘Seems right,’ I said, ‘Fitness isn’t only for people who take part in sports. It must be having an important role to play even for our corporate world. Look at the way they encourage the use of in-office gyms and other sports facilities. Look at the way the CEOs today want to be clicked by the press as they run in marathons.’
‘And the students of Delhi university say that they find running in the sun too exhausting!’
The doctor then spoke: ‘This reminds me to tell you guys that this McKenna I was quoting has also stated that even office-goers have a more tolerant attitude to themselves and to their work. They do not lose temper as much when they exercise well.’
‘Which is such a good thing,’ said the housewife, ‘the government should have a fitness test with lots of running, jogging, and jumping even for the motorists here. This may actually end the cases of road rage that we see so often.’
We smiled and the researcher added that even the parliamentarians need such tests and then they might stop being so demented about introducing wonderful new policies to benefit the Nation.
‘And let me also say that this guy McKenna says that the paradox of exercise is that to get energy you have to expend some.’
‘True,’ I replied, ‘and who says we couldn’t do with energetic students in colleges or energetic clerks in our offices…’
‘…or energetic policemen in our cities…’ added the excited housewife.
‘Or an energetic parliament,’ added the researcher, ‘and an energetic Nation is possible only if we stop protesting against fitness tests.’
‘Yes, and I can quote Dr. John Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston having written that exercise in many ways optimizes your brain to learn,’ said the doctor.
I must say that these people with me had been to their office and then had been spending the past couple of hours discussing this matter, so I casually asked, ‘Do you people also exercise daily?’
Yes, they did. They went for their long walks and did a lot of asanas that Baba Ramdev had ensured the entire Nation knows and talks about. They were fit, probably fitter than those shooter aspirants for a seat in the university who questioned the wisdom of being asked to run in the sun! Why can’t these sports enthusiasts realise that it isn’t just skills that matter… what makes all the difference in a sporting event is for how long you are able to compete without your skill level sagging.
We have some excellent footballers in India but they get exhausted much faster than the players from other countries. This happens in almost all our sports. We tire and lose focus faster, we tire and let our skills sag, we tire and just see the opponent fire away with the same energy that he had started with.
Our offices have talented people who get exhausted faster and so we have wonderful plans wasted because they couldn’t be pursued to the end. We have some really inventive researchers, policy-makers, politicians, technicians, engineers, doctors, architects, and managers who begin as well as any in the world but experience a burn-out also faster than any in the world.
There are so many medals lost, prizes and accolades missed because we are not able to tell ourselves that a fitness regime is essential! Forget the protests. Forget the sun and the exhaustion. Just get up and begin being fitter. We need to learn to run and jump to woo the world!!
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22 June 2012